With 'spectacle' commute, drug kingpin wants trial in new location

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The world's most prolific drug dealer, who had a fleet of planes, trains, automobiles and submarines when he was free, is distraught about his commute to court while in custody.

In a new court filing, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman complained that he was indicted in Chicago and other cities, but that the U.S. government chose Brooklyn, New York, as his point of prosecution. Because Chapo is being housed in the Manhattan federal lock-up, he must make a lengthy commute from the prison facility to the Brooklyn courthouse every time there is a legal hearing. To accomplish that, authorities shut down the Brooklyn Bridge for a motorcade resembling that of royalty. His attorneys said that such a sign is poisoning the jury pool, implanting images of El Chapo as someone so dangerous that he needs that kind of ultra-security treatment.

Chapo provided photos of the Brooklyn Bridge shutdown so that his cortege could be whisked across. His attorneys said such a "spectacle" will have a detrimental effect on Chapo's right to a fair trial.

Therefore, the drug kingpin is asking for a change of venue in his upcoming trafficking trial, either to the Manhattan courthouse or to Philadelphia, or anywhere else where such an extensive motorcade and traffic control wouldn't be needed.

"Mr. Guzman has now made seven court appearances, each directly exposing countless of New Yorkers and potential jurors to this spectacle and inconveniencing thousands more by the traffic disruptions created," said the newly-filed federal motion.

Guzman, 61, has pleaded not guilty to charges that his cartel oversaw a campaign of murders and kidnappings to uphold his Mexican drug empire. He was extradited from Mexico in January 2017 and his trial is set for September. The bridge shutdown and motorcade routing would continue for about 12 weeks according to an estimate from prosecutors.

"The government transported Mr. Guzman to the MCC in a multi-vehicle motorcade that included several marked police cars, black Suburban SUVs, an ambulance and an emergency response vehicle," said Guzman's attorneys. "The MCC was flanked by countless law enforcement officers wearing tactical vests displaying the insignias of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security, the Marshals Service, the New York State Police, and others."

Guzman's attorneys point to "the government's unexplained desire to try Mr. Guzman in the Eastern District of New York, as opposed to one of the other numerous jurisdictions," including Chicago where he could have been "hailed to trial." Legal analysts suspect that the Eastern District of New York was chosen for El Chapo's prosecution because then-attorney general Loretta Lynch was once the top government prosecutor there. The Chicago case was, and is, considered the strongest against the drug lord.

The government has until May 15 to respond to the change of venue request.
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